Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Show Me Some Mussel! (Healthy!)

I had a crazy week last week (hence the lack of posts). There was a lot of back-and-forth between my parents' house and my apartment, an ongoing juggle that lasted about ten days. I found myself at home on Friday night. After six hours of class and the impending trip back to Fairfield that evening (again), the last thing I wanted to do was cook a meal -- but I didn't want take-out either.

We could all agree that we wanted some sort of dessert, blueberry pie to be exact. So we went to the grocery store with the hopes of finding a half-decent frozen variety. I love going to the grocery store, because that's where you'll find inspiration when you're running on fumes.

Lo and behold, Prince Edward Island mussels were on sale for $1.99/pound. Little Neck clams were $5.99/pound. Eureka.

First, let me tell you a little about why mussels in white wine sauce is such a stellar meal:

1) It's a classic. You'll find Mussels Provencale or Mussels in White Wine Sauce in any decent French or Italian restaurant. My youngest sister knows this best, she gets it whenever it's on the menu.

2) It's easy. The prep time is minimal and you can't over cook it. It only involves 5 staple raw ingredients.

3) It's great for "date night". I've been with Jim for over 5 years and this meal still impresses. For you first-daters out there, this meal is great because it looks and tastes impressive, but its so easy! Plus, you'll spend more time interacting with your honey than with your stove. I think that's important. Set a nice table and light a few candles... you can't beat it!*

4) You get a lot of bang for your buck. Pasta is cheap and, if you play your cards right, so is the shellfish.

So let's get this show on the road.

Mussels and Clams Provencale

1 lb Prince Edward Island Mussels
1 lb Little Neck Clams (the little ones are best)
3/4 Cups Butter (1 1/2 Sticks)
4 Cloves Garlic, chopped
2 1/2 Cups White Wine (Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc)
1 Cup Fresh Parsley, chopped (optional)
Grated Parmesan Cheese (optional, for serving)
Lemon Wedges (optional, for serving - lemon always tastes good on seafood)

1) The shellfish are alive. First you have to give them a quick rinse, then place them in a bowl with cold water (if you use hot water, they'll start to cook). This gets them to spit out any sand, etc. that might still be inside. Let them sit for 5-10 minutes. If you have an old toothbrush, use it to gently rub any excess gunk off the shells. Drain in a colander and rinse again.

2) In the meantime, get your spices ready. Chop the garlic (you can keep the pieces somewhat larger than usual), and quickly run your knife through the parsley. Basically you just want to release the flavors.

3) In a shallow sauce pan, over medium heat, melt a stick of butter (1/2 cup). Tip: If you cut it up a bit, it will melt faster.

4) Once the butter is melted, add and saute the garlic. Cooking the garlic in butter, over medium heat, will keep it from cooking too quickly and burning. When garlic cooks slowly it looses its sharpness and gets a nice sweet flavor, which is what we're going for here. Saute until the garlic begins to soften and break down.

5) Throw in the mussels and clams. Right in the pot. They'll steam a minute and start to open up.

6) Add the white wine. About 2 1/2 cups should do. This is all of the liquid you'll be cooking them in, so you want to make sure there is enough to just about cover them (be careful when eyeballing this... mussels float!) Also add the remaining 1/4 cup of butter. The butter makes the dish a little more rich and creamy, and helps the sauce hold together.

7) Turn to high heat to bring to a boil, once it boils reduce to a simmer and cover them up. Let them simmer for about 10-15 minutes until all of the shellfish open up and the alcohol in the wine cooks off.

8) Once they all open up, they're done!

9) Toss in the parsley and throw it all in a bowl!

Now for some eating options!

- You can make it a pasta dish. If you do, use a box of linguine, it holds the sauce really well. Dump the mussels and sauce over the pasta and toss it with some tongs. Just make sure you have a big bowl.

- You can get a French baguette or a loaf of Italian bread and use that to soak up the sauce. You can eat the bread as it is or...

- Cut the Italian bread into thick slices. Drizzle with olive oil and toast in the oven until the crust begins to crisp. When you take it out, rub it with a clove of garlic that has been cut in half. Make sure you do this while the bread is still crispy and hot. This is my favorite because the sides and crust of the bread get a nice crisp and then the inside is still soft. Great for soaking up that Provencale sauce!

This really is a stellar meal. You can see how excited I get about it. It takes no effort to cook and very little skill. I spent about $8.00 on the mussels and clams - that's about the same you'd spend on a pack of chicken breasts and way less than a steak. The box of pasta only cost me a dollar. I always have garlic and wine in my kitchen, and you don't have to use a good wine. This is a great "some for me, some for the pot" recipe! Plus, it fed me and two growing boys!

*This is especially helpful for the guys out there. Nothing is more impressive than a charming guy who can cook.

P.S. Chef Pierre makes an amazing frozen blueberry pie!

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